Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of faith and flying reindeers

Driving home in the minivan, still 6 weeks away from Halloween, Christmas was on my daughter's mind.

"Daddy, can Santa's reindeers really fly, for real life?"

I sensed this was the start of another high-stakes conversation, about far more than Rudolph and friends.

"That's a hard question, Brielle," I answered, wondering what skeptical kindergarteners had planted these seeds of doubt in my 5-year-old's mind. Maybe it was her 5th grade buddy? I went with an opinion poll--raw, objective data. "I know a lot of people say that Santa's reindeer fly. But other people don't believe that."

I know how to avoid taking a stand on an important issue as well as any good politician.

Quiet in the minivan.

"I've never seen Santa's reindeer fly, Brielle."

"But Daddy, you have never seen his reindeers at all."

"That's right. I haven't. So if I haven't seen them, I can't know if they can fly or not." I paused, trying to decide if this dialog should be connected at all to any larger questions. I was pretty sure it should not. But the old Bible teacher in me couldn't resist.

"Some people only believe what they can see. They don't believe anything is real except what they can see. Just like with God. Some people like you and me believe God is real even though we can't see Him. But other people don't believe in Him.

"I believe that lots of things that I can't see are real," I continued.

"Why, Daddy?"

"Well, Brie, my eyes are very small, and the world is so big--I think there must be a lot of things in such a big world that are real even if my little eyes can't see them."

"I only believe in God," Brielle said, all smiles.

"Yes, you do, my Brie. So do I."

A quarter mile of mountain road passed under our gray Odyssey as we neared home, my better sense scolding me for having a chat about faith in God at the same time we discussed the plausibility of airborne deer. But isn't it valid to compare two myths believed in and experienced joyfully by some and laughed at by others? Is faith not required for both? There would be time later to explain how the God stories we teach her are more intellectually defensible than those about St. Nick on the North Pole--not that I am ready to make that case just yet. I have years before she gets around to asking that.

On second thought, maybe I don't. Maybe I better get to the library and check out some C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, the best apologies I can find. Isn't there a kids edition of Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith?

While I questioned myself, Brielle was devising a plan of her own. "Daddy, this Christmas Eve, I'm going to go to bed in the front room on the couch. And I'm going to sleep a little bit and stay awake a little bit."

"Why, Brie?" I asked, feigning confusion. I knew where this was going.

"I'm going to find out if Santa's reindeers are real or if they are not. And then I'm going to tell all of you guys." She was very proud of this.

"That's good, my Brie," I said, appreciative of her scientific method, the show-me spirit inherited from her Missourian grandpa, but hoping she'd forget this plan by Christmas. Since she probably would not, I was also wondering what her odds of staying asleep in the front room the entire night before Christmas might be. For a second I think visions of Benadryl danced in my head.

"I'm going to find out if they really do fly or if they just walk a long ways," she announced. A beat. "My guess is that they ride from the North Pole on an airplane, and then go back to the North Pole on that airplane with Santa. And that's what I want to do."

"You want to go to the North Pole on an airplane?"

"Yes--but with my family," she said.

This was the most liberal exegesis of the Father Christmas narrative I had ever heard from her. For better or worse, the demythologizing of the sacred Santa scripture has already begun.

What will be next?

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